24 Sep 2018

21 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Twenty Three: False Killer Whales

The first full day at sea on the crossing between St Helena & Ascension Island had started well for Cetaceans with a small party of Sperm Whales & a party of around fifteen Short-finned Pilot Whales that moved straight past the Plancius & didn't linger. All this happened before breakfast. By now I was settling into a routine of having a fairly quick breakfast, filling up the insulated coffee mug & getting back on the bridge wing whilst everybody else was enjoying a more leisurely breakfast. Even so it wasn't quick enough to see the Solar Polar Skua than Hans found while I was having breakfast. The advantage of being back on deck was I could get a good position on the best bridge wing for the next few hours. At lunchtime, I would fill up on hot drinks, grab some biscuits in lieu of lunch so I could get a good position for the afternoon. Generally, the best side was port in the morning & the starboard in the afternoon, but sometimes I ended up having to compromise if the winds were blowing hard into one of the bridge wings. It was good I was back quickly as I was one of a small group of people who were on the port bridge wing when a small party of False Killer Whales made a brief appearance: a new Cetacean for me. The only other party of False Killer Whales seen on the Odyssey was on 26 Apr 18, when they appeared in a mixed party associating with a group of Melon-headed Whales. Unfortunately, I only managed to get on to the Melon-headed Whales on that occasion.
False Killer Whales: A slightly confusing photo until you realise that there is a second individual starting to surface immediately before the closer False Killer Whale
False Killer Whale
False Killer Whale
False Killer Whale
False Killer Whale: Looking at the photos, it is possible to confirm that the dorsal fin is location mid point along the body
False Killer Whale: Both are now clearly visible
False Killer Whale: A close crop of the dorsal fin shape of the first individual
I wasn't sure what they Cetaceans these were. I had only had a brief view with the binoculars before I picked up the camera which turned out to be a good decision as this was the only views I had & photos I was to get. They looked like one of the Blackfish group of Cetaceans. They clearly were not Orcas as they were far too small & the dorsal fin shape was wrong. Although, they were about the same size as Short-finned Pilot Whales, the dorsal fin shape was wrong and they didn't linger on the surface like Short-finned Pilot Whales or the out of range Long-finned Pilot Whales tend to. This left False Killer Whale, Pygmy Killer Whale & Melon-headed Whale. The only one of the three species I had seen was Melon-headed Whales & that was sixteen years before in the Philippines & I couldn't remember much about how to separate them. Fortunately, Hans also managed to get some photos of these False Killer Whales which helped to confirm the identification when Han & Majike (who had missed them) reviewed the photos. The main separation features are False Killer Whales are a similar size to the two species of Pilot Whales around six metres long, whereas the other two species are barely half that size. Generally, the males are a big bigger than the females in the Blackfish. Having seen the Short-finned Pilot Whales only an hour earlier then comparing the size in my mind wasn't too difficult. False Killer Whales have a fairly long & slender body and an overhanging melon (if the front of the head is seen well). The dorsal fin is slender & falcate and often rounded at the tip (but this shape can be variable). The dorsal fin is located at the middle of the back. Based on size and dorsal fin shape they had to be False Killer Whales.
False Killer Whale
False Killer Whale
False Killer Whale: A closer crop of the dorsal fin of the second individual
False Killer Whale
False Killer Whale: A final view & they were gone
I had been disappointed to have missed the views of my first South Polar Skua: it probably appeared for its third & last time, but it was too far away to be sure of its identification. However, I was really pleased to have still had a short enough breakfast to be back on deck for these False Killer Whales. I seem to remember that I had taken nearly half an hour to have breakfast. By the time of the West African Pelagic, I had learnt to only allow around fifteen minutes for breakfast & to fill up the coffee mug.

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